The well-known poem Footprints in the Sand* refers to a dream of a man walking and talking with G-d, who promised to always be with him. The man saw two sets of footprints through various stages of his life. At difficult moments he only saw a single set of footprints and accused the Lord of abandoning him at difficult times. To which the Lord explained He had never abandoned him. During those dark times, the single set of footprints meant the Lord had carried the man.

The Passover Seder in Israel is followed by a week-long vacation and opportunity to burn off calories from the holiday meals, by hiking our beautiful countryside, now blooming from the rainy season which just ended. Three weeks ago, on Tuesday 7 April, I was invited to a hike in Nahal Og (Wadi Og) in the Judean Desert. This picturesque canyon is less than an hour from the tropical Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, which some believe may have been the biblical Garden of Eden.

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Mountain View from Nahal Og Hike

As a veteran and organizer of other hikes myself, I looked forward to meeting old and making new friends in the fresh air and scenery. Fourteen friends of friends introduced themselves to each other, walked and talked — and some whined as we climbed up hills — on a wide road suitable for tractors and jeeps. We hiked, rested, drank, ate, laughed, joked about a flock of Bedouin black sheep and goats we passed, and shared stories about where we were…and who we are.

FE-wBlack Goats

Bedouin Black Sheep and Goats

Our phones and cameras captured beautiful scenes, people…and memories.

I made a new friend, Yair Shapiro, a historian from Livingston New Jersey (USA), where I also once lived. During a lunch break my good friend Craig Preston, also a seasoned hiker and organizer of the Jerusalem Mosaic Hiking Club, took this picture of Yair resting on a rock, in one of the happiest moments of Yair’s life.

Yair - before the fall

Yair Shapiro resting

After the break, we continued our journey scrupulously following the official trail markers, which surprisingly led to a path veering up the side of a mountain, 50 meters above the wadi. Time stood still as we heard the crash and scream. After an interminable wait in the hot sun and shade, volunteer rescuers and two helicopters removed Yair who didn’t survive the fall.

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The only way home was to resume the journey, as darkness approached this desert canyon. Assisted by dedicated rescue volunteers, we hiked onward, in a surrealistic atmosphere of calm and even laughter, until we reached the field rescue station, set up at the exit, after nightfall.

Yair was a historian…and our 13 lives were changed and intertwined…by Tragedy, Catharsis, and Unity!

We all must sanctify our lives with joy just as Yair did in his final … yet happy…hour.

On our Life Journey together:

  • Sometimes I will carry you.
  • Sometimes you will carry me.
  • Most times, I hope, we can walk side by side.

Let us make our own footprints in the rocks and sand… together… forever!

NOTE: A Facebook group has been formed to plan activities to honor Yair Shapiro’s memory. Please join us!

*Authorship is credited to Mary Stevenson but also contested by others.